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Hominins' Diet and Mobility

Palaeodietary research

We are interested in hominid dietary adaptation through time. Our main research consists in the characterization of Paleolithic hominin diets, particularly those of Neanderthal and modern humans. To do so, we conduct carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses on bone and tooth collagen. In addition, we are currently exploring how Zn isotopes, analyzed in dental enamel, could help to document past human diets. We are also applying these isotope tracers to other archaeological time periods.


We are using isotope analysis of strontium in tooth enamel to reconstruct the mobility of hominins and fauna. We conduct these analyses by extracting the strontium through column chromatography or by directly using laser ablation. Additionally, we use sulphur isotopes in bone and tooth collagen as an indicator of migrations.

Selected Bibliography

Neanderthal and early modern human diets

Fu, Q., Li, H., Moorjani, P., Jay, F., Slepchenko, S.A., Bondarev, A.A., Johnson, P.L.F., Aximu-Petri, A., Prufer, K., de Filippo, C., Meyer, M., Zwyns, N., Salazar-Garcia, D.C., Kuzmin, Y.V., Keates, S.G., Kosintsev, P.A., Razhev, D.I., Richards, M.P., Peristov, N.V., Lachmann, M., Douka, K., Higham, T.F.G., Slatkin, M., Hublin, J.-J., Reich, D., Kelso, J., Viola, T.B. and S. Pääbo (2014) Genome sequence of a 45,000-year-old modern human from western Siberia. Nature. 514(7523): 445-449  

Hu, Y., Shang, H., Tong, H., Nehlich, O., Liu, W., Zhao, C., Yu, J., Wang, C., Trinkaus, E. and M.P. Richards (2009) Stable isotope dietary analysis of the Tianyuan 1 early modern human. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 106(27):10971-10974.  

Salazar-García, D.C., Power, R.C., Sanchis Serra, A., Villaverde, V., Walker, M.J. and A.G. Henry (2013) Neanderthal diets in central and southeastern Mediterranean Iberia. Quaternary International. 318:3-18.  

Richards, M.P. (2009) Stable isotope evidence for European Upper Paleolithic human diets. In: J.-J. Hublin and M.P. Richards (eds.), The Evolution of Hominin Diets: Integrating Approaches to the Study of Palaeolithic Subsistence. Springer: Dordrecht, 251-258.  

Richards, M.P. and E. Trinkaus (2009) Isotopic evidence for the diets of European Neandertals and early modern humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 106:16034-16039.

Hunter-gatherer diets  

Britton, K., McManus-Fry, E., Nehlich, O.Richards, M., Ledger, P. M., & Knecht, R. (2016). Stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope analysis of permafrost preserved human hair from rescue excavations (2009, 2010) at the precontact site of Nunalleq, Alaska (advance online). Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.04.015.  

Britton, K., Knecht, R., Nehlich, O., Hillerdal, C., Davis, R.S. and M.P. Richards (2013) Maritime adaptations and dietary variation in prehistoric Western Alaska: Stable isotope analysis of permafrost-preserved human hair. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 151(3): 448-461.  

Stantis, C., Kinaston, R.L., Richards, M.P., Davidson, J.M., Buckley, H.R. (2015) Assessing human diet and movement in the Tongan maritime chiefdom using isotopic analyses. PLoS ONE. 10(3): e0123156.  

Mannino, M.A., Catalano, G., Talamo, S., Mannino, G., Di Salvo, R., Schimmenti, V., Lalueza-Fox, C., Messina, A., Petruso, D., Caramelli, D., Richards, M.P. and L. Sineo (2012) Origin and Diet of the Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers on the Mediterranean Island of Favignana (Ègadi Islands, Sicily). PLoS One. 7(11):e49802.  

Salazar-Garcia, D.C., Aura, J.E., Olària, C.R., Talamo, S., Morales, J.V., Richards, M.P. (2014) Isotope evidence for the use of marine resources in the Eastern Iberian Mesolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science. 42:231-240.  

New isotope approaches

Jaouen, K., Beasley, M., Schoeninger, M., Hublin, J.-J., & Richards, M. P. (2016). Zinc isotope ratios of bones and teeth as new dietary indicators: Results from a modern food web (Koobi Fora, Kenya). Scientific Reports, 6: 26281. doi:10.1038/srep26281.

Jaouen, K., Szpak, P., & Richards, M. P. (2016). Zinc isotope ratios as indicators of diet and trophic level in Arctic marine mammals. PLoS One, 11(3): e0152299. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152299.

Jaouen, K., Herrscher, E., & Balter, V. (2016). Copper and zinc isotope ratios in human bone and enamel. American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Primate diets

Fahy, G., Richards, M., Riedel, J., Hublin, J.-J. and C. Boesch (2013) Stable isotope evidence of meat eating and hunting specialization in adult male chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110(15): 5829-5833.  

Fahy, G.E.Richards, M.P.Fuller, B.T., Deschner, T., Hublin, J.-J. & Boesch, C. (2014) Stable nitrogen isotope analysis of dentine serial sections elucidate sex differences in weaning patterns of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 153(4): 635-642.


Britton, K.Grimes, V.Niven, L., Steele, T.E.McPherron, S.Soressi, M., Kelly, T.E., Jaubert, J., Hublin, J.-J. and M.P. Richards (2011) Strontium isotope evidence for migration in late Pleistocene Rangifer: Implications for Neanderthal hunting strategies at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Jonzac, France. Journal of Human Evolution. 61(2):176-185  

Britton, K.Grimes, V., Dau, J. and M.P. Richards (2009) Reconstructing faunal migrations using intra-tooth sampling and strontium and oxygen isotope analyses: a case study of modern caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti). Journal of Archaeological Science. 36:1163-1172.  

Kinaston, R., Bedford, S., Richards, M.P., Hawkins, S., Gray, A., Jaouen, K., Valentin, F. & Buckley, H. (2014) Diet and Human Mobility from the Lapita to the Early Historic Period on Uripiv Island, Northeast Malakula, Vanuatu. PLoS ONE.  

Nehlich, O., Oelze, V.M.Jay, M., Conrad, M., Stäuble, H., Teegen, W.-R., Richards, M.P. (2014) Sulphur isotope ratios of multi-period archaeological skeletal remains from central Germany: A dietary and mobility study. Anthropologie. 52(1):15-33.  

Nehlich, O. and M.P. Richards (2009) Establishing collagen quality criteria for sulphur isotope analysis of archaeological bone collagen. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. 1(1):59-75.  

Richards, M.Harvati, K.Grimes, V.Smith, C.Smith, T.Hublin, J.-J., Karkanas, P. and E. Panagopoulou (2008) Strontium isotope evidence of Neanderthal mobility at the site of Lakonis, Greece using laser-ablation PIMMS. Journal of Archaeological Science. 35: 1251-1256.  

Stantis, C., Buckley, H. R., Kinaston, R. L., Nunn, P. D., Jaouen, K., & Richards, M. P. (2016). Isotopic evidence of human mobility and diet in a prehistoric/protohistoric Fijian coastal environment (c. 750–150 BP). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 159(3), 478-495. doi:10.1002/ ajpa.22884.  

Stantis, C., Kinaston, R.L., Richards, M.P., Davidson, J.M., Buckley, H.R. (2015) Assessing human diet and movement in the Tongan maritime chiefdom using isotopic analyses. PLoS ONE. 10(3): e0123156.

Strauss, A., Oliveira, R. E., Villagran, X. S., Bernardo, D. V., Salazar García, D. C., Bissaro, M. C., Pugliese, F., Hermenegildo, T., Santos, R., Barioni, A., de Oliveira, E. C., de Sousa, J. C. M., Jaouen, K., Ernani, M., Hubbe, M., Inglez, M., Gratão, M., Rockwell, H., Machado, M., de Souza, G., Chemale, F., Kawashita, K., O'Connell, T. C., Israde, I., Feathers, J., Campi, C., Richards, M. P., Wahl, J., Kipnis, R., Araujo, A., & Neves, W. (2016). Early Holocene ritual complexity in South America: The archaeological record of Lapa do Santo (east-central Brazil). Antiquity, 90(354), 1454-1473. doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.220.